Today we’re going to talk about foods that alter your mood. We will attempt to give you a few examples of those specific foods and why they influence your mood. I’m sure you’ll be able to use this valuable information. Let’s begin.

Two specific neurotransmitters have an energizing effect. These are the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. When that all-powerful brain produces these chemicals, you are alert, motivated and have very quick reaction times. The main building block of these alertness chemicals is the amino acid tyrosine. Eating protein, which contains plenty of tyrosine, raises tyrosine levels in the brain. Once the tyrosine levels are raised in the brain the synthesis of dopamine and norepinephrine begins. The resulting effect is that you have greater mental energy.

The neurotransmitter serotonin has a calming effect. Its presence in the brain boosts concentration, relieves feelings of anxiety and makes you feel a little drowsy. To make serotonin, your brain needs another amino acid, tryptophan. Like tyrosine, tryptophan is found in proteins. The problem is, eating more protein won’t increase levels of tryptophan inside the brain. To be quite frank, high-protein depletes the brain’s tryptophan supply. The problem is tryptophan must compete with tyrosine and other, more plentiful amino acids to enter the brain. It tends to be crowded out by the others when you eat protein. To increase the brain’s supply of tryptophan, eat carbohydrates, without protein. Doing so triggers the release of insulin, which shunts some of the amino acids from the blood to other organs. Tryptophan, however, is left behind in the blood. With the decrease in competition, tryptophan is now able to enter the brain.

Now, let’s first put all this technical mumbo jumbo into the terms of the layman. I’m sure a lot of you have been in that dreadful after chow academic or training class. You went to the chow hall during lunch and the first thing you had was a nice salad and baked potato. To wash that down, you had a nice glass of some sort of juice. Finally, you ate the meat with the rest of your food. Soon after, you found yourself in a nice warm class bowing to the zzzz monster. Well, what happened was when you ate the salad, baked potato and juice, you just gave yourself a big dose of carbohydrates, which in turn caused the release of insulin. This production of insulin help the amino acid tryptophan enter the brain. When the tryptophan entered the brain it helped to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin and you started to get drowsy. The opposite happens when you eat proteins. So the next question should undoubtedly be what should we eat and when.

For greater alertness, motivation and mental energy, eat protein. The best sources of protein are fish, shellfish, skinless chicken, veal, lean beef and egg whites. These foods are almost 100% protein and have little or no fat or carbohydrates. They tend to work quickly. Other good sources for protein are low-fat dairy products, dried legumes, tofu and other soy products. These contain some carbohydrate but are very low in fat. Avoid fatty foods such as pork, lamb, fatty cuts of beef, hard cheeses and other whole milk products.

To relax and focus eat carbohydrates. Eating the carbohydrates without protein is crucial. The reasoning behind this is because protein will boost levels of amino acids that compete with tryptophan for entry to the brain. Instead of feeling calmer, you’ll feel hyped-up. The best sources of carbohydrates are gum drops, licorice, marshmallows, jam and other sweets. Also included in these sources of carbohydrates are grain-based foods such as bread, crackers, pasta, rice, popcorn, pretzels and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Fruits and non-starchy are not good materials for the brain’s serotonin factory. Of course, these are crucial to a balanced diet but are not essential for the calmness effect or for focus.

These are just a few good tips to help the food-mood blues. So next time you know you have a class after chow, forget the baked potato and bread and eat some chicken, fish or lean beef and drink plenty of water with just a small portion of carbohydrates. Be sure to eat your protein first to give those aminos a headstart to the brain. Well, that’s it this issue from Semper Fitness. See you next time. Stay pumped, stay motivated and OO-RAH!

Semper Fidelis!